The Rodney I know is funny. He’s one half of our personal Laurel and Hardy. And at the time, I haven’t heard the story yet. The story about their night at the farm. So how I’m feeling about Rodney’s message, and the fact that he responded hours late with a smiley face, is close to how I’m feeling about Ever when I see him for the first time since they returned from Michigan.
Like it’s still him, but different.
I’m not sure I would’ve known it was Ever if he wasn’t sitting exactly where we said we’d meet up, which is on the stoop to his apartment building in Brooklyn.
It’s been a few days since Tracy’s audition. I checked on Morris and Rodney’s cat. I got Karen’s mail. I wrote everyone a dozen times, but nobody’s writing back. Just the one weird message from Rodney, like a hand jutting out from a swamp before quickly sinking back in. Did you see a hand or not? I don’t know.
What are they doing out there?
Listen, it’s not the weirdest thing in the world for some bohemian lunatics to decide to spend a week with a friend out of state. I get that. People do it all the time. But it’s the nature of this particular scenario that has me on edge. I keep reminding myself that I wasn’t there the first night and sometimes you have to be strapped into the car as the ride begins to take part, any part, in the ride. I’ve been on the other side of this before. It’s why some people don’t like drinking with people who don’t drink and vice versa. You’re at different parties. Karen and Baum, Morris and Rodney, Connie… they’re at a different party than I am. I was invited, I just couldn’t make it. So I missed this one. Okay. I keep telling myself that. I missed this one, it’s not a big deal.
We’re at different parties.
But then there’s Tracy’s audition…
Well, I didn’t get anything more out of her when we went out for drinks. But so what. We didn’t kiss again either. And at some point she seemed to get edgy. Nervous or angry. I don’t know. How could I know? I figured it had to be her and Ever. “Navigating” means “lost,” right? And sometimes couples don’t want to find their way back. But I could tell she had crossed into the country of angry-drunk and before I decided what to do about it, she said she wanted to head home.
Okay. All is well.
That’s all normal enough stuff. But the thing that worried me was that she didn’t really lose that character she’d been playing on stage for that audition.
It never quite felt like Tracy quit trying out for the role of Tracy.
As I’m walking up his block, after I’ve seen him waving me down, I’m astonished at how quickly a person’s physical appearance can change. A haircut can do the trick, sure, but the Ever who smiles and, yes, leaps as he waves me over, this man is beyond haircut. I’ve seen Ever out of a work shirt a handful of times, but I’ve never seen him bare-chested on the sidewalk under the sun.
When I reach him, he hugs me. I can smell him. Ever, our business-minded Ever, boyfriend-of-Tracy Ever, hasn’t showered since Oliver’s farm I’m guessing. And there’s no way he’s washed the zip-up sweater that isn’t zipped up, that leaves his torso exposed.
“Wow,” I say. “How you doing, Ever?”
His hair has grown out a little. He hasn’t shaved. He looks crazy.
Yes, it’s the look in Ever’s eyes…
Let me try to articulate:
Well, for starters, it’s not just a thing to say. Yet, if you’d asked me a week ago to describe the look in Ever’s eyes I wouldn’t have been able to. I think maybe we all draw subconscious pictures of those we know, daily, adjusting gradually as they, and we, age. I think maybe it’s partly just a feeling, too, as if the space between two people is not empty after all, but filled with a bridge and upon that bridge walks the ideas we have of one another. I know Ever to be a certain way. This isn’t made up entirely of his opinions, mannerisms, the way he dresses, or the fact that he’s dating the woman I still love. There’s also the unseen stuff, the invisible, the person. We’ve all had friends who have either fallen on hard times or, perhaps, had a revelation of sorts, changing their lives for the better. And while good friends bear witness to these alterations, what do we really see? I think what we see is the stuff that a stranger would see first. Take Ever. If you’d encountered him two weeks ago you would say he was aloof, confident, conservative. And now? The man I’ve met up with has larger ideas in his head, evidenced by the way they press against the back of his eyes. If you met Ever today, you might think him a hippy.
“So,” he says. “The farm. You wanted to know about the farm.”
I’m happily surprised he’s getting right to it.
“It was interesting,” he says. He’s using his hands to explain things, pacing a bit, like he’s walking in place. Because we’re talking about a farm, it’s not hard to imagine him walking rows of crops as he describes the night they had.
Or maybe it’s just because he’s barefoot.
Then Ever tells me the story. All of it. It’s the first I hear of their arrival, Bookman’s General, the game of CUE, the dinner. Things get hazy when he attempts to relay a speech Oliver gave at dinner but the parts he does say worry me.
“Are you saying you were drugged?” I ask him.
Because, that’s gotta be what happened. And it explains everything, all of it, all at once.
Ever emphatically shakes his head no.
“No drugs. Just…”
“Ever, listen,” I say, “I’m gonna level with you.” But am I? I made out with his girlfriend since he’s been back. Can he feel the dishonesty from me? The hiding? “You’re acting like a whole different person.”
Ever laughs. Hard.
“Isn’t that amazing?” he says. “You’re talking about me like we were talking about Oliver.”
“So you remember that?”
I ask because it feels impossible that he wouldn’t have made that connection already, wouldn’t have said, I know, I’m acting like Oliver was when we were all worried sick about him.
But that’s another thing: he’s not acting like Oliver. He’s just acting nothing like himself. Just like Oliver was.
“I think you were drugged,” I say again.
“Nope. What drug lasts a week?”
Has it been a week? Almost. Where are Morris, Rodney, Karen, Baum, and Connie?
And how much have they eaten?
Ever places his hands on my shoulders, the way people do when they want you to see things a different way.
“Maybe it was the farm life,” Ever says. He’s smiling. “Maybe it was getting out of the city. What does it matter, man? I’ve had a revelation. The person I used to be? I’ve outgrown him.”
“I’m serious. Why isn’t it okay for someone to move on? We all claim to respect growth. But the second someone actually grows…”
“Because those things don’t happen overnight,” I say. “What you’re talking about takes time.”
He’s so giddy. So energized. I’m beginning to think he’s having a manic episode. But that wouldn’t explain Tracy. Or Oliver.
“Who says it has to take time?” Ever says. “Why can’t there be an immediate change? That’s what this is.”
“Okay, but not everyone at once.”
Ever looks confused for a second.
“Have you spoken to the others?” He asks.
“To Tracy, yeah.”
He dismisses this.
“Tracy’s on her own trip. She was all worked up over Oliver and now she’s not and there’s a decompression going on or something. Listen… I got out of the city. I had a good time. I got to thinking. That’s all that’s happened.”
“But it’s not, Ever. You said Oliver was talking about worldviews. Moods. Traits.”
“So what are you saying, man? That Oliver is growing personalities on his farm?”
We hold a stare, long enough for me to see that this possibility crosses his mind. Then he shakes it off.
“He’s living large out there,” Ever says. “That’s all.”
Ever claps his hands and steps from me, then steps back. Again, the idea that he’s having an episode crosses my mind.
“Okay,” he says. “Think of it this way. Do you know what the word natter means?”
“It means to talk a lot.”
“You’re nattering right now.”
“See? Exactly what I mean. I just taught you a word. You used it right away. Do you know this word any less than you know the word ‘house’ now?”
“What do you mean?”
“You now know both words. Natter… and house. Do you know house any better than you do natter? The second you learn it, it’s yours. It doesn’t matter when you received the knowledge, all that matters is that it’s in your head.” He taps his head. Ever has never shown this much emotion, this much color, before. “Now… you own it.”
“Okay, but a word isn’t a worldview. Typically when someone changes so suddenly, the way they think, it’s worrisome. Like how we felt with Oliver.”
“I know. I get it. I get you. But what can I say? Oliver and I must have had revelations in the same place. That’s all. I quit my job.”
He nods. All smiles.
“Man, I’m moving on. I’m leaving the city.”
“What about Tracy?”
He shakes his head no.
“She’s on her own journey. It’s fine. I love her. She loves me. Or maybe she doesn’t?” he laughs. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Ever,” I say, trying to be some model of stability while feeling the opposite. “I think maybe you should consider this a bit more before you make any big changes. I’m all for change, I get it. But you’re acting like you’re in the middle of something and I don’t want you to come out of it and discover you threw everything away.”
He taps his head again. “The big changes already happened. You know that. You can tell. People always say perception is everything when they’re trying to make you feel better, but have you ever really allowed that idea to take root? No. And neither did I. It’s not like I don’t remember how I was thinking a week ago, man. Believe me, the old me is embarrassing now. I was literally floating through life. A week ago I was a leaf on a river and now I’m the river itself. Look, I can tell I’m freaking you out with all this. You just gotta trust me. Do you trust me?”
“I don’t know that I do right now.”
“That’s fine, too! Oliver left the city. He had a revelation. He changed. What do you think is gonna happen to all of us? How many older starving artists do you see? We’re gonna give up on these dreams sooner or later, man. Most people do. I’m just deciding to do it right now. I wasn’t into acting for any of the right reasons. You know that. And don’t pretend you don’t. I wanted people to watch me, wanted them to say I was good. I didn’t care about a connection. Nothing like that at all. Now? Well, I’m not necessarily thinking of connecting now, but I sure as shit don’t wanna do something I have no passion to do. You see? That’s why I’m leaving.”
I’m trying to take all this in.
“What about the…”
“The Farmer,” Ever says. He nods. “I know. I guess it was just Oliver’s word for revelation. I call mine a realization, he calls his… The Farmer.”
Hmm. I don’t know. I sit on the steps to Ever’s apartment because I’m worn out just talking with him.
The scenes from his story are circling my head. Everybody eating. Everybody laughing. Then… Ever wakes up. Drives from Michigan to New York. Realizes here that the life he was living wasn’t his life to live after all.
I mean… okay. I can handle a lot of that.
I look up at him. See he’s staring up the block. I look to see what he’s looking at but there’s nothing, nobody up there. Maybe Ever’s looking within. I don’t know.
“Have you talked to the others?” I ask him.
This seems to connect. For the first time, the sparkle leaves his eyes and, for a second, he just looks like regular old Ever. But worried.
“No,” he says. “I’m sure they’re having a good time.”
“Why wouldn’t they be?
“I don’t know, man. I wasn’t out there.”
We do. And I’m glad for it. We’re heading back toward the subway and whether or not Ever is passive aggressively getting rid of me doesn’t matter. The shit he told me about, their night out there. I just do not know what to make of it.
And yet, here’s a man: seemingly changed overnight. In dress, in mannerisms, in outlook. But not (and this is important to me) in memory.
You might excuse Ever for acting this way if he’d had, say, a head injury. If out on Oliver’s farm he fell in a hole and smashed his head on a rock. But this isn’t even like that. He’s fully aware of the person he was before the visit. He just doesn’t “agree” with that person anymore.
“I really hope the same for you,” he says.
“What I’m experiencing. A coming to.”
“Coming to what?”
“I don’t know. To everything, I guess. At some point we all have to change. That’s life, right? What would thirteen-year old you think of you now? Would he recognize himself in you?”
“I don’t know. But I still see him in me. Hey, Ever–”
“Well, what I’m saying is the same thing.”
I figure whatever this is, all of this, it’s a phase. For Ever, for Tracy, for Oliver. For all I know, Tracy and Ever argued the whole way there and the whole way back and the Ever that’s walking me to the subway is one that’s been trying to break out for years. I’ve only ever known him to date Tracy. And how different are we when pitted against different people? I asked Tracy less questions because I could read she wanted less questions asked. I asked more of Ever because I could tell he wanted to talk. Yet, here I am, the man in the middle, and which one am I really? The one who asks or the one who does not? Maybe Ever has felt pent up for a long time. Maybe Tracy knew this wasn’t going to work a long ago. Maybe the trip to Oliver’s farm had nothing to do with Oliver and I’m the only one who thought it did. I’m trying to look back on all our talks. How serious were they? Was I the most serious? Am I the only one who wasn’t acting, who was actually worried about him?
Have you ever felt like all your friends are losing their way at once?
I wanna talk to Baum. Karen. Rodney. Connie. Shit, even Morris would be good right now. Especially Morris. He’s as consistent a person as any I’ve ever known.
Is it me? Am I too serious? Is this just youth in New York City? Is this what people mean when they say the city will chew you up and spit you out?
I’m thinking of Ever’s story about the farm. I’m thinking of Oliver giving a speech, any speech, and how absolutely insane that idea is to me. And I’m thinking of the words Ever recalls from that speech:
Points of view.
It sounds like Oliver joined a cult is what it sounds like.
“… you don’t even have to be ready for it…”
Ever is talking but I’m not listening. He’s going on and on about the real him and how he remembers the old him but that he doesn’t mind losing track of that guy. He’s talking about shedding his skin and rising up like a fuckin phoenix from the fleshy ashes (his words) and I’m worried like Hell about what it means that he’s leaving New York, what it means for Tracy and me and the story he told and the others still out there. And just about when we reach the subway I come back into focus, I’m ripped back into Ever’s reality at the sound of his tears.
“Is he okay?” someone asks.
It’s a woman. Older than us. She’s walking by and pointing to Ever who is on his knees on the pavement, crying, heavy, his face in his hands.
I’m down next to him, arm around his shoulders.
“What’s going on, Ever? What happened?”
I’m expecting him to look up at me, to tell me it’s so beautiful, all of this, discovering the real him, cracking through that shell.
But that’s not what he says at all.
“I can’t quit seeing those willows,” he says. “I can’t quit seeing those Goddamn trees like they’re… like they’re… like they’re a fence around me, man. I just gotta chop them down. I’m so close. I just gotta cut those last fucking willow trees down…”